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VacationSpot.com PM 'failed to groom an heir'

July 25, 2001

Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose political fate is hanging in a delicate balance, has missed a "golden chance to act as a statesman" by failing to lay the foundation for the Thai Rak Thai Party to carry to look after national affairs in his absence, according to a leading opposition MP.

Speaking at a luncheon meeting held by the American Chamber of Commerce, Abhisit Vejjajiva, deputy leader of the opposition Democrat Party, said Thaksin had instead tried to create an impression that neither his party nor the country could do without him.

Thaksin is awaiting a verdict from the Constitution Court, which is expected to hand down its ruling in early August on whether the prime minister deliberately failed to disclose his assets in a filing in 1997. If found guilty, he will be barred from politics for five years.

Abhisit also accused Thaksin of sending improper signals to the public by assuring there was a quick fix or an easy way out of the country's economic problems. This signal was quite damaging, he said, for it suggested there was no need for painful reform, and that all the public or the business community needed to do was to wait for government handouts, he suggested.

"The prime minister said he would undertake reform but we have not had a single signal from him that he would take the tough and unpopular decisions in the short term, although he is in a unique position to do so with his political mandate," Abhisit said.

Thaksin, he added, had also become caught up in his own campaign rhetoric, playing on nationalism and painting the economic picture in terms of black and white. This was not to mention the prime minister's confusing signals on the role of exports, foreign investment and the Bank of Thailand, he said.

By laying on the campaign rhetoric, Thaksin had deprived himself of the necessary room to exploit these sectors to help the recovery process during a time of economic downturn, Abhisit said.

Thaksin indeed has sought to establish a new economic model for Thailand, based on self-reliance and local wisdom. His view envisages a Thailand prospering on domestic demand. He aims to gradually shift Thailand away from the traditional export-oriented policy that has dominated Thai economic policymaking for more than a decade and which has also been partly blamed for causing the balance-of-payments crisis. For to export, Thailand needs to import substantially and in the process could stumble at any time depending on the economic cycle of the major trading partners.

The heart of Thai Rak Thai's economic policy, as a result, is geared toward rebuilding rural-based community businesses and upgrading the competitiveness of the small- and medium-scale enterprises.

However, Abhisit said he had no problem with economic self-reliance in so far as it is implemented within a global context, in which Thailand plays an integral part.

During a question-and-answer session, Abhisit urged the prime minister to tell the truth to the public about the economic difficulties ahead due to a sharp drop in export and economic activity. The PM should undertake education reform seriously, he said, otherwise Thailand would never be competitive in the global marketplace.

Abhisit's last recommendation to the government was to stick to political and public-sector reform so that the country is ready to move ahead once it has emerged from the crisis.

Thanong Khanthong



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